As preppers, we should prep for the most likely scenarios, emergencies, and disasters first. Fire safety is one area where our preparations make a difference today. It’s not as exciting as prepping to fight zombies, but it can save your life.
1) Smoke detectors should be in your home. These alert us to a fire and give us time to escape. If you want the best protection consider having two different types of detectors: photoelectric and ionizing. The photoelectric ones are more likely to spot a smoldering fire early.
2) To put out smaller home and workshop fires, fire extinguishers should be available. Here’s a nice “Know Your Fire Extinguisher ABCs”
To be prepared for most home fires, you want an ABC rated fire extinguisher. This will let you put out wood fires, gas and oil fires, and electrical fires.
To use a fire extinguisher, you can learn the PASS method.
PASS stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Pull the safety pin on the extinguisher, aim the fire extinguisher, gently squeeze the handle, and sweep the extinguisher across the base of the fire.
Removing the safety pin and aiming should be pretty self explanatory. The safety pin is obvious: The handle can’t be used without removing it. Aiming should go without saying. The SS part is easy to mess up: Shoot, Swear? Shoot, Spread? Those of us with bad memories could spend ten minutes trying to remember what SS stands for.
The way I remember it is that you don’t want to blow flammable materials all over the place. Fire extinguishers put out fires by smothering or chemically reacting with the fire. They don’t blow out fires. Go easy on the trigger handle until you know just how powerful the blast from the extinguisher will be. Don’t make the situation worse. Aim at the base of the fire and move the extinguisher back and forth across the entire fire.
Here’s a nice video (ABC News) of some newbies learning to use extinguishers:
On youtube, a few years ago there was an amusing video of a fire safety demonstration gone awry (somewhere in Eastern Europe I believe). To put out the fire, the demonstrator let fly with the full force of the extinguisher and blew flammable materials all over: Spectators were running around and patting out fires on their clothing; people stomping out burning embers everywhere. Nobody was hurt, so it was kinda funny. (I tried to find the youtube video to show you, but couldn’t find it.)
3) There are other specialty products to help you escape a fire. Fire escape masks give you more time before the smoke will do you in. These have two downsides: They’re expensive, and they don’t last forever.
If you sleep in the second floor of your home, you can purchase emergency fire escape ladders. Trace at tracemypreps.com has a great blog post about fire escape ladders. The lesson is important: test your preps. It’s better to try things at your leisure than need them to absolutely work or else you die. Who needs the stress of needing to figure things out at the last minute? If your ladder won’t hold on the edge or some other problem develops, you want to know before the actual fire.
4) Conduct A Fire Drill. This is related to testing your preps. Many people purchase alarms, but don’t ever conduct a single fire drill. As children, we all thought school fire drills were silly, but hey, they took us out of world history class.
Many of the employees at Morgan Stanley in the World Trade Center thought fire drills were silly too: They just got in the way of getting real work done. But the head of security, Rick Rescorla, demanded them. As a result of his planning and drilling, nearly every single employee of Morgan Stanley was able to successfully evacuate the World Trade Center during 9/11. (To learn more about Rescorla’s brave actions on 9/11, see: The Unthinkable: Who survives When Disaster Strikes—and Why by Amanda Ripley)
5) If you’re older or disabled and can’t get down a ladder easily, move your bedroom to the main level of your house. In the book, we discuss egress windows and basements extensively. If you have an older home with small basement windows, escaping a fire emergency could be difficult if you’re not physically fit. We don’t want to get trapped in the basement or on the second story.
I’ve been told burglars hate to go into upper home levels or into the basement because they fear a homeowner will return and they’ll be trapped. They prefer to stay on the main level too! It’s easier to get out of a house quickly if you’re on the main ground level.
6) Consider a sprinkler system
These offer the absolute best chance of putting out a fire inside the home before it kills you. The big downside: They’re expensive. It’s no small job to retrofit an older home with one of these systems. These systems freak me out, because I fear they’ll accidentally go off and destroy all my books and soak the house’s structure. Bye, bye wooden floors. Bye, bye carpet. I’ve been told that’s an irrational fear and that these systems are nearly bomb proof.
Here’s a youtube video of a guy having a really bad day at work because of a sprinkler system that gets damaged:
If you have a home sprinkler system, know where the shut off valve is so you can manually disable the system. Even then, these systems are designed to put out a lot of water and quickly soak everything. As with many things in building code, home sprinkler systems are a political issue: Some lobby for; some lobby against. One side will win, and we’ll either be required to have these in new homes or not.
7) Give some thought to your home’s construction. Some new homes can burn faster than older homes. This is because older homes used old, dense wood. Lumber like that isn’t even available anymore for new construction. Those trees grew for hundreds of years. Wood chips glued together to make a “board” is a common theme of building today. This affects the flammability of the structure.
8) Give some thought to the exterior construction of your home and the surrounding environment. In the book, I talk a bit about the exterior of your home and how it affects your home’s risk to firebomb attack. A more basic concern for many people in wooded areas is making your home resistant to wildfires.
Here’s some good information (firewise.org) (californiachaparral.com) about hardening your house against wildfires.
(Picture page 4 of this PDF shows parts of home that are attacked by smoldering embers.)
The upshot of this information is that wildfires create embers and the embers attack your home. If an ember reaches your house, you don’t want it to start a blaze. Dry leaves in a gutter are bad, but stubby water-retaining plants to keep embers from blowing onto your house are good.
9) Give workshops special attention. In the auto repair section of the book, one website I meant to include, but forgot, was garagejournal.com. Here is an unfortunate story of a workshop burning to the ground (garagejournal.com).
Workshops need special attention for several reasons. One is that we often keep flammable materials in our workshops. How many garages don’t have a 2- or 5- gallon gas can? Toss in WD-40, oils of all kinds, solvents, and welding tanks, and we have a pretty volatile collection.
The comments to this post are well worth reading. The reply about properly venting a fire cabinet is especially good.
Not only do we store flammable things, we create them. How many workshops have huge sawdust jackrabbits everywhere, created from years of woodworking projects? Keeping a shop clean and free of sawdust is important.
For homeowners, many of us do metalwork in addition to woodworking in the same shop. Sparks flying from a welder and sawdust in corners is a particularly bad combination. Sharpening a lawnmower blade on a bench grinder creates sparks too. Where will the sparks from your grinder land? Organize your shop to maximize fire safety.
Before you begin and after you finish any project, fire safety should be considered. Is your shop sufficiently clean for welding? Is there an excessive odor from some flammable chemical? Do you need to dispose of some oily rags? Try to clean up after every project.
10) In the workshop and home, electrical fires are a hazard. One study said there are about 150,000 home electrical fires annually. Tools should be unplugged when not in use. Wiring should be safe. Electrical fires start because damage to a wire allows a bit of current to leak out and find an errant path to ground.
If this errant current has a solid conductor to ground, a circuit breaker will trip, or a fuse will blow. What sometimes happens is that there is a high-resistance path to ground. Current flows, but the circuit breaker doesn’t trip. Meanwhile, the path is heated, and a fire can start.
Arc faults are one source of electrical fires. Modern circuit breakers called Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) are designed to trip if they encounter arc faults caused by damaged wiring. The downside: Sometimes these things trip for no apparent reason.
If old wiring has damaged insulation, an arc can jump between the hot wire and the neutral or grounding wire. The path taken by the arc heats up.
Extension cords, tool cords, and other electrical appliance cords should be in good condition. If the cord has been abused or repeatedly bent, a break in the wiring can lead to serial arcing, where current flows along a wire, hits a small gap, arcs across the gap, and continues down the wire. The gap heats up dangerously.
Go over your preps for fire safety. A bit of knowledge and planning can go a long way to assure your family will be safe during a fire emergency, and can help minimize the chances of winding up with a fire in the first place!
Charlie P, author – The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning.
Great, one more thing to worry about—an amoeba up the nose.
July has been the hottest month in recorded weather history
Here’s another nice 72-hour survival supplies list from modernsurvivalblog.com.
Here’s a thoughtful article (rethinksurvival.com) about when to stop prepping (or when your preps are adequate).
Yippee! Demcad on Youtube mentioned my book:
(Demcad is one of my absolute favorite preppers on youtube.)